Police departments are investing in body cameras as a response to calls for increased accountability after high-profile shootings, but a new study found that juries are less likely to blame officers for incidents based on footage from body cameras versus dashboard cameras, reports Courthouse News Service. Laws regulating, and in some cases requiring, the use of body cameras for police have been passed in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Many were prompted by a 2013 study that showed police use of force dropped by 50 percent in Rialto, Ca., when officers wore body cameras by community pressure after a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who fatally shot unarmed teen Michael Brown, an incident for which no video recording was available.
It may seem obvious that video footage would help juries accurately assign blame in violent incident, but researchers say a viewer’s judgment may hinge on the viewpoint of the camera from which footage is shot. In a study published Monday by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found mock jurors were less likely to find that an officer acted intentionally when viewing footage from a body camera rather than watching the incident from the vantage point of a police car dashboard camera. The study also showed that potential grand jurors were less likely to indict officers when they watched footage from a body camera than when they viewed an incident from a dash camera. Researchers attributed the discrepancy, which was consistent across eight experiments, to the amount of time an officer was visible in the footage. Viewers were reluctant to assign blame to an officer they could not see, who was obscured behind a body camera.